A pair of NBA all-stars with D.C. ties will be featured prominently in ESPN The Magazine’s upcoming State of the Black Athlete issue. Wizards point guard John Wall, who was selected by Washington with the No. 1 pick of the 2010 NBA draft, and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who was honored with a championship parade in his home town of Seat Pleasant last August, both wrote letters that will appear in the issue and were published this week on The Undefeated.

Wall’s honest and heart-rending letter, which you should really take the time to read in full, is addressed to his late father, John Carroll Wall, who spent much of Wall’s childhood in prison and died of liver cancer days before Wall’s ninth birthday.

“We’d make the two-hour drive every weekend to see you, sometimes rolling two cars deep,” Wall writes. “Some of the things I got used to in my early years were getting patted down and thoroughly checked by prison guards and walking down long prison corridors with the sounds of those prison gates opening and closing.”

Wall recalls one day playing in the water and going on rides with his father, who had just been released, at a North Carolina resort in the summer of 1999 as the best of his young life. He didn’t know at the time that his father had only been permitted to leave prison a month early because of his illness. Wall remembers the “horrific smell” of his father’s hemorrhage that day and his father being rushed to the hospital. It wasn’t until days later that Wall learned his father had died.

At the funeral, Wall’s older brother promised to take care of the family, but he wound up in jail the following year. Wall, who opened up about his father in a 2010 story by The Post’s Eric Prisbell, was forced to grow up fast. While his basketball career continued to blossom, he struggled to stay out of trouble, both on and off the court. “I lived up to my nickname: Crazy J,” Wall writes. “And honestly, I couldn’t have coached me.”

Wall credits his stepdad — “a man I didn’t embrace at first but is someone who I would do anything for today because of what he did for my family” — for helping him turn things around and eventually land a scholarship to Kentucky. In his letter, Wall makes it clear that his father was a part of his success as well:

I know you’re proud of the man I’ve become. I’m the first in our family to attend college, and although I have not yet completed my degree, it is a goal that I hope to accomplish. My sister followed behind to become the first in our family to graduate from college and went on to get her master’s.
I’ve taken care of my mom, and taken care of the family just like you told me.
It’s the Wall way.
When I become a father, I’m going to share your story. Not going to sugarcoat anything. I’ll let my kids know that every generation can be better and that I’m living proof. Just like you pushed me, I’ll push them to believe that they can become anything in life, like doctors, teachers, nurses or executives.

Wall broke down in tears while thanking his mother, Frances Pulley, after being inducted into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame in September. The emotional address was reminiscent of Durant’s acceptance speech after winning the 2014 NBA MVP award, during which he thanked his mother, Wanda Pratt, and famously said she was “the real MVP.” Durant’s letter in ESPN The Magazine is addressed to the neighborhood where Pratt raised him and his brother. He describes the tunnel vision he had a kid to make it out of Seat Pleasant as “a gift and a curse;” being so focused on basketball forced him to “turn a blind eye to what was going on” in his community, including police brutality, poverty and crime.

“I am in an unusual place—I feel like I’m living two lives, one as an NBA player and another as a black man from an impoverished neighborhood,” Durant writes.

Durant, who brought the Larry O’Brien championship trophy to Seat Pleasant for the first “Kevin Durant Day” in August, expresses sadness about the “little progress” being made in the neighborhood he escaped and concludes his letter with the following message:

If I could give some advice to the youth of Seat Pleasant, it would be to find something that you love and do it as if your life depends on it. It sounds cliche, but it’s really that simple. If you put your mind to it, have faith and seek support, all with the foundation of a strong work ethic, the world will open for you. And once the world is open for you, then the conversations with close friends and family about how we can effect further progress in our communities will come from your own fulfillment, joy and freedom. So try to find your passion every day. See what the world has for you.

Read Wall’s full letter here. Read Durant’s full letter here.

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